14 Henrietta Street
When the architects Shaffrey Associates appointed GEM Construction as their contractors to restore 14, Henrietta Street, the experts at GEM could hardly have expected to be told to bring parts of this magnificent town house back to the state it was in during the latter half of the twentieth century; a damp and semi-derelict vermin-infested tenement housing about a hundred people, some of them sleeping six to seven in a bed.
There is not much that daunts this team, however, and the successful completion of this unusual project has resulted in Dublin City Council planning the opening of a fascinating museum in September.
Magnificent Georgian Townhouse
Completed in 1748 by Luke Gardiner, the house was originally occupied by landed gentry, the wealthiest in Ireland, and then successively by bishops and lawyers. Gradually, it slid down the social scale, and in 1877 it was converted into a tenement. There were seventeen flats, sharing two outside toilets.
The last tenants left in 1970, and the house fell into disrepair. Many felt it could never be restored and should be demolished.
New Plans for Old
The Tenement Museum, Dublin. There was a heated debate about the name of the building, as Dublin Council originally wished to call it the Townhouse Museum, whilst the then minister for state for heritage Aodhán Ó Ríordáin insisted it should portray life in tenements, and tenements alone. A compromise was reached, and the basement, a single room once inhabited by a family of thirteen, has been restored to show, very accurately according to Peter Brannigan, one of the eleven children who lived there, living conditions for tenement dwellers.
The rest of the building is rather more glamorous.
The lovely Georgian staircase, ripped out when the house was converted, has been copied and installed, and the beautiful plaster mouldings so typical of the era have been repaired, and replaced where necessary. Much of the original fabric of the house has been repaired and protected, including, perhaps less glamorously, the disinfectant paint on the back stairs leading to the lavatories!
And Back to Normal
Repointing, repainting, the installation of pedestrian access and ramps, the renewal of the roof and the façade, the lift, the ancillary services, and a new landscaped garden, all these were necessary to ensure that this new museum would be accessible, safe, and successful. And, following the work required to demonstrate a damp, crowded and vermin-infested basement, this must have seemed like a welcome return to normal for GEM Construction and Shaffrey Associates.